I’ve spent a couple of years trying to figure out how my very smart dog—who can remember and break into any place food is stored—can have such an extremely short memory. Every day, when Scout the Lab sees the horrible menace of the mail truck as it stops in front of the house, we have a frenzied barkfest: look! That truck! What’s it doing on my road? I’ve never seen that before! Very dangerous! I’ll scare it away for you right now. And it works every time. The truck goes away, the home is safe. He expects a treat. (He also saves us from birds that fly into his territory. God help the UPS delivery man and people who walk their dogs in front of our house.) Obviously, he’s a hero. So I should have known Scout would throw himself in harm’s way for us.
Yesterday we were out hiking in the woods as usual, Scout, me, my husband, Alan, and dear friend, Barb, with one of her two Labs. Here’s what you need to know about Barb’s dog. She’s only had her for two days. Part of an extensive program, Roxy is a gorgeous one-year-old yellow female; she’ll be used for several cycles as a breeding dog for Lab puppies that will ultimately be raised in other homes and trained as service dogs for handicapped people. Roxy’s special—exceptional health and calm temperament. Barb and her husband were likewise chosen as exceptional people, able to give her a forever home while allowing her to be bred for this purpose. They signed multiple agreements.
Roxy was fully leashed yesterday, while Scout was off leash, carrying his ever-present tennis ball. Did I mention that Roxy is strong? She is remarkably obedient, remarkably calm, remarkably strong.
Everything was peachy–a lush day of hot afternoon sun–until we stupidly decided to head through the woods to let the panting dogs get a drink from the river. Even more stupidly, we went to a section just above the spillway. Did I mention how much rain we’ve had recently? How high and hard the river is running?
Apparently, Roxy was pretty thirsty. She caught a glimpse of that water and took off, dragging Barb relentlessly over the rocky embankment. Have I mentioned how strong Roxy is? Barb was about to be pitched head first into the river when Roxy jumped for the water, and the leash was jerked from Barb’s hand. That would have been fine; Labs are great swimmers. Except that the current was so unusually fast, Roxy was almost immediately swept over the spillway.
Well, Roxy could have still been fine. But, swimming like mad, she kept trying to climb back up the spillway, which isn’t possible. What she needed to do was turn around and swim downstream with the current to get to the side. This generally comes naturally to our Labs, but maybe not with three humans and a barking dog screaming instructions at you? When Roxy didn’t turn right away, unwilling to chance that she wasn’t going to, Alan climbed down the bank below the spillway, and into the river he plunged after her.
No, he didn’t stop to discuss it. Or take off his shoes. Or to toss his wallet, car keys, or watch down first. This was a man and dog code red. Into the river. “It’s okay,” he yelled, in to his waist: “I’m fine! Not deep!” Oops, suddenly chest deep. Then, over his head. Did I mention Alan’s not a world champion swimmer? (He’ll now deny this true fact forevermore. Not that a beautiful freestyle was a great possibility in the roiling current, anyway.)
Well, Scout would have none of that. What’s hero practice for after all? He saw Alan and Roxy in the water, barked I’ll save you! and leapt in the river. No, he wasn’t smart enough to throw himself in below the spillway. He jumped in exactly where Roxy had, and the racing water shot him over the spillway, which clearly hadn’t been part of his plan.
Now there were two dogs and one man in the river, and two women on the bank pointing and screaming the only sensible thing: go downstream, go downstream!
As luck (and honestly, it was luck) would have it, there was a large branch floating in the middle of the river. Alan grabbed for it. He got himself behind Roxy, got them both downstream enough to work her over to the bank and shove her onto land from behind.
(Scout later pointed out that he swam downstream and climbed out on his own after seeing that he’d saved Alan and Roxy, thank you very much. He swims that river every damn day, after all. You just have to stand ready for emergencies at all times.)
P.S. Kids, please don’t try this at home.